EA's Hot Summer Nights: Full Report
EA showcased an impressive software line-up at its Redwood Shores, California headquarters. We were there to bring you the details.
Uber-publisher EA chose to showcase its line-up of games due to appear this Christmas and early next year at its Redwood Shores, California HQ on 14 July. The second iteration of an event formerly called Camp EA and now called Hot Summer Nights (mercifully, the 80s covers band providing "entertainment" refrained from any Grease renditions), it threw up little by way of news, but provided more in-depth demos and hands-on opportunities than E3 two months ago.
News was restricted to the announcement of a Nintendo DS version of Sims spin-off The Urbz, and various Madden NFL 2005 revelations of interest only to seasoned fans. But various games stood out as triple-A titles which, backed up with EA's bottomless pockets and marketing muscle, should shift in enormous quantities.
Sewn Up with The Sims 2
Famously, The Sims has overtaken the Myst series as biggest-selling game of all time, and an in-depth demo of The Sims 2 suggested that the franchise will carry on breaking records. As well as acquiring an impressive 3D graphics engine, Sims 2 is considerably changed from its predecessor in basic gameplay terms. You no longer have to help your Sim up every step of the corporate ladder - instead, you must help him or her achieve a set of aspirations, which become increasingly unrealistic and difficult to fulfil as you achieve them. Luckily, as you fulfil aspirations, you earn points which can be cashed in to buy objects which, in turn, help you fulfil loftier aspirations.
Instead of controlling single Sims, you can take charge of entire families, and The Sims 2 has a number of neighbourhoods, each with its own (often bizarre) back-story. You can move families between neighbourhoods and even create your own neighbourhoods (whose architecture can be pulled into the game from Sim City). The Sims 2 will launch on September 17 for PC only - EA has "no current plans" to introduce console versions of the game, whose multi-layered AI probably dictates that the Xbox is the only current console with the grunt to run it properly. But you can expect versions of the game for next-generation consoles; in the meantime, The Sims spin-off The Urbz will keep the franchise's console side alive.
Battlefield 2 Impresses
Battlefield 2 is another new version of one of EA's hottest properties which was extensively demonstrated. Compared to Battlefield 1942 and Vietnam, it has two obvious differences: it is set in the Middle East in the modern day, and boasts an impressive new 3D graphics rendering engine which scales from an RTS-style high viewpoint right down to on-the-ground first person. Purists may be slightly worried by the way in which it lets you operate sophisticated modern battlefield machinery - the original game's simplicity was one of its most appealing factors - but EA has worked hard to preserve its simplicity as much as possible.
Thus, for example, you will be able to jump into an F15 fighter plane or helicopter instantly and take on the enemy without extensive tutorials; restricted amounts of ammunition and, for example, missile-confusing flares will then keep dogfights simple and arcade-style. As before, you will be able to take on pretty much any battlefield role, but this time around, you will be able to capture and edit footage of your most heroic in-game efforts. EA promises that up to 100 people will be able to play per server (split into US and Middle East Coalition teams), and the game is scheduled to arrive in spring 2005 (although the mod tools will be available earlier).
FIFA Returns to Form
After last year's disastrous effort, EA Sports' FIFA franchise lacks credibility - particularly in comparison with Konami's sublime Pro Evolution Soccer. But you shouldn't write the venerable franchise off, and FIFA Soccer 2005 marks a major return to form.
Happily, FIFA Soccer 2004's appallingly complicated, Madden-style (and maddening) after-touch system - which, the developers admitted, took up so much development time that the rest of the game was effectively unfinished when it came out - has been ripped out. Instead, FIFA Soccer 2005 features a first-touch system employing the right analogue stick, which lets you lay the ball off away from incoming opposition players. Thankfully, the adjustable game speed system has returned, and you can now lob onrushing goalkeepers.
EA has received criticism over the years for majoring on tried-and-tested franchises, but there were two original games on show at Hot Summer Nights: Oddworld: Stranger and Armies of Exigo. The latter was a solid-looking, if unremarkable, PC RTS, but Oddworld: Stranger looked pretty promising.
Created by Oddworld Inhabitants, which achieved prominence through developing the Abe and Munch games for Microsoft (but recently split with the Seattle giant amid what sounded like a certain amount of acrimony), Oddworld: Stranger takes place in the quirky Oddworld universe but is much less puzzle-based than the company's previous games. It is an action-adventure effort mixing third-person melee scuffling with first-person shooting. In typical Oddworld fashion, you shoot weird animals you have collected on your travels (which have wildly differing explosive properties). It looks impressive graphically and will come out for Xbox and PS2 in spring 2005.
Other notable highlights from Hot Summer Nights included Medal of Honour: Pacific Assault, the latest (PC-only) instalment in the popular WWII FPS franchise. Pacific Assault relates the action from America's assault on the Japanese at the South Pacific island of Tarawa in 1943, dubbed "The D-Day of the Pacific", as the Americans, having shelled the island for days, were amazed to find heavy resistance to their botched landing efforts. Pacific Assault looks great, has Return To Castle Wolfenstein-style multiplay in which you can choose from several classes of player and, at last, acknowledges that WWII had been going on since before 1944 (despite being an American-developed game).
EA's latest acquisitions, Burnout 3 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, were clearly entering their polishing phases; Burnout 3 (Xbox, PS2) is due in September and TimeSplitters FP (also Xbox and PS2) not long afterwards. The sixth expansion pack for enormously popular MMORPG Ultima Online is also in development - called Samurai Empire, it is due for early next year.
As ever, EA has a very healthy line-up for this Christmas and beyond.
Contributor, Kikizo Games